From Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 14, p. 366 (Dec. 1913)
EDITORIAL NOTES By T. C. ELLIOTT
Alexander Ross, whose day-to-day experiences in 1824 appear in this journal, did
service in many parts of the Old Oregon country. As a member of the Pacific Fur
Company he arrived on the Columbia in March, 1811, and assisted in the building of
Fort Astoria, and in the fall of the same year assisted in the building of the first Fort
Okanogan., at which post he was stationed for several years; from there he made trips
south to the Yakima country, west to the summit of the Cascades, north to Thompson
river and beyond, and east to the Spokane country. Later, while staff clerk of the
Northwest Company at Fort George, he ascended the Willamette, and in 1818 assisted
Donald McKenzie in the building of Fort Nez Perce at the mouth of the Walla Walla
river, of which fort he was in charge until 1823. That summer he started to cross the
mountains and quit the service, the Hudson's Bay Company having succeeded the
Northwest Company, but was stopped at Boat Encampment by a letter from Deputy
Governor George Simpson, asking him to take charge of the Snake Country Expedition
that fall. This appointment he accepted and returned to Spokane House and thence
proceeded to the Flathead Post in what is now Montana, where this journal begins.
Returning from this expedition he spent the winter at the Flathead Post and in April,
1825, joined Governor Simpson at the mouth of the Spokane river on the way east to
the Red River settlements, where he resided until his death in 1856.
Mr. Ross is one of the four writers upon whom we depend for much that is known about
the early exploration of and fur trade in this vast Columbia river basin. In 1849, more
than twenty years after his active experiences here, he published a book entitled
"Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River," and in 1855 he put
out another book entitled, "Fur Hunters of the Far West." It is related that Mr. Ross first
left his paternal home in Scotland in 1804, from which it may be estimated that he was
more than sixty years of age when completing these books, which, from their context,
evidently were based upon some journal or memoranda then at hand. There has been
and probably always will be a question as to how closely he followed any such original
memoranda and how much he drew from memory. The publication of this journal is
therefore valuable to the extent that it assists in answering that question, and it should
be read in immediate comparison with the first 160 pages of Vol. II. of "Fur Hunters of
the Far West," Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1855. It may be noted also that the preface
of Mr. Ross' first book was dated in 1846 and that pages 154-5 of Vol. II. of his "Fur
Hunters," contains a footnote suggesting that at least a part of it had been written much
The original of this journal is to be found in the possession of the Hudson's Bay
Company at their head office on Lime street, London, but this text has been carefully
copied from an original copy belonging to the Ayers Collection in the Newberry Library
at Chicago, Ill.; that original copy was made by Miss Agnes C. Laut in preparation for
writing her "Conquest of the Great Northwest," and was by her transferred to the
Newberry Library. To the writer of these notes, it seems possible that this is not the
journal that Mr. Ross had when writing his books and that he had other papers than
those formally turned over to the Hudson's Bay Company. This suggestion is based
upon the fact that other personal journals have been found among the family archives
of contemporaneous fur traders, also upon other deductions. The reader will regret that
seemingly Miss Laut did not find it necessary to copy the entire text of the original in the
H. B. Co. House at London.
Referring to the journal itself it will be found that from Eddy, in Montana, Mr. Ross' party
followed very closely the present- route of the Northern Pacific Railway as far as
Missoula, which is at the mouth of Hell Gate Canyon and River (Porte d'Infer, as the
French half-breeds first named it) ; thence he proceeded south up the Bitter Root Valley, along the stream which is the original Clark's Fork of the Columbia named by
Captain Lewis when at its source in 1805. On a small mountain prairie of the easterly
fork of this stream he was snowbound for a month, and that prairie has very properly
been known ever since as Ross' Hole. Finally he succeeded in forcing a way across the
continental divide by what is now known as the Gibbon Pass (but which Olin D.
Wheeler rightly says should be called Clark's Pass), over to Big Hole Prairie, where a
monument now stands commemorating the battle between General Gibbon and Chief
Joseph during that memorable Nez Perce retreat in 1877. Mr. Ross now crossed the
various small source streams of the Big Hole or Wisdom river and passed over the low
divide to the Beaverhead, which is another of the sources of Jefferson's Fork of the
Missouri. Thence he again crossed the continental divide southwest into Idaho, using
perhaps the same pass that Lewis and Clark had in 1805 and was upon the waters of
the Lemhi river, and then spent the entire summer and early fall upon the mountain
streams of central Idaho, including the Snake river from the Weiser southward a
considerable distance. He returned by practically the same route and arrived at
Flathead fort the last of November.
As the Lewis and Clark party in 1805-6 traveled over a part of this same route it is very
interesting in this connection to compare with the careful and voluminous notes of Dr.
Elliott Coues and Mr. Olin D. Wheeler, both of whom personally followed the path of
those explorers through these mountains.
But the really beautiful as well as valuable portion of this journal is the brief and vivid
picture of the grand assembly of the Indians at their customary council ground, Horse
Plains, in December, 1824, and the ceremonial opening of the annual trading period at
the Flathead Post, followed by the outfitting of the next Snake Expedition under Mr.
Peter Skene Ogden, the brief mention of the holiday season at the fort, and of the
closing up and departure of the trader in the spring. Here are facts and figures useful to
the writers of poetry and romance, as well as to the historian.
JOURNAL OF ALEXANDER ROSS; SNAKE COUNTRY EXPEDITION, 1824
(As Copied By Miss Agnes Laut In 1905 From Original In Hudson's Bay Company
House, London, England)
Tuesday, 10th of February.
Our party was as follows:
|Thyery Goddin||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Joseph Vail||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Louis Paul||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses||1 lodge|
|Francois Faniaint||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Antoine Sylvaille||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Laurent Quintal||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Joseph Annance||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Jean Bapt Gadaira||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Pierre Depot||1 gun||3 traps||2 horses|
|Francois Rivet, interp||2 guns||6 traps||15 horses||1 lodge|
|Alexander Ross||1 gun||6 traps||16 horses||1 lodge|
|11 men||12||33 (?)||50 (?)||3|
1824, Feb. 10. Every preparation for the voyage being made, I left Flat Head House(1) in
the afternoon in order to join the Free Men who were encamped at Prairie de
Cheveaux.(2) Joined the Free Men and encamped. Snow 18 inches deep. Weather
cold. General course east, 8 miles. Statement of Free Men Trappers, Snake Country.
|Men||Traps||Guns||Horses||On the Books|
|Charles Gros Louis||3||16||4||10||2|
|Geo. Louis Gros||3||12||3||9||2|
|43||173 (?)||50||181||34 (?)|
|Total 20 lodges||54||206||62||231|
Many of these people are too old for a long voyage and very indifferent trappers. Iroquois,
though good trappers, are very unfit for a Snake voyage, being always at variance with the
whites,. too fond of trafficking away their goods with the natives. More harm than good to
1824, February, Wednesday 11th. All hands being assembled together and provisions
scarce, we lost no time leaving Prairie de Cheveaux. Proceeded till we reached Prairie de
Camas(3) and put up for the night. Several deer seen. Weather cold. Snow 15 inches, wind
east. General course east by south, distance 12 miles.
Thursday 12th. Remained in camp on chance of killing deer - people badly off for
provisions. Murmuring among the Iroquois, but I could not learn the cause. High wind,
heavy snow, wind east.
Friday, 13th. Early this a.m. the Iroquois asked to see their accounts. I showed them
article by article and showed them their amounts wh. Seemed to surprise them not a little.
Some time after leaving camp I was told that the worthy Iroquois had remained behind.
I therefore went back, and true enough, the whole black squad, Martin excepted, had
resolved to leave us, old Pierre at their head! On being asked the cause Pierre spoke at
length. The others grumbled, saying the price allowed for their furs was so small in
proportion to the exorbitant advance on goods sold them, they were never able to pay their
debts much less make money and would not risk their lives any more in the Snake
Country. Old Pierre held out that Mr. Ogden last fall promised there would be no more N.
W. currency; this they construed to be paying half for their goods. I told them whatever
had been promised would be performed. Although I had balanced their accounts, they
could be altered if required. It was at headquarters accounts would be settled. They
grumbled and talked, and talked and grumbled and at last consented to proceed. Thinks
I to myself-this is the beginning. Having gained the blacks, we followed and camped at the
Traverse(4) plain covered with but 10 inches of snow, weather fine, course S. E. Distance
Saturday 14th. Early on our journey except four lodges hunting deer. Proceeded to fork
called Riviere aux Marons,(5) where many wild horses are said to be. Our Horses are lean.
Seeing the Iroquois apart from the whites I suspected plotting and sent for Pierre and
Martin. Gave them a memo. importing that N. W. currency was done away with and their
accounts would be settled with Quebec currency or sterling. This pleased. All is quiet. S.
Sunday 15th. Remained in camp on account of bad weather and for hunters who brought
in four wild horses and seven deer. These horses are claimed by the Flathead tribes;
those who kill them have to pay four skins Indian currency. Wind high.
Monday 16th. On our journey early. Delayed by a pour, rain, sleet, snow. Passed the
Forks, left main branch Flathead, River followed up Jacques Fork(6) till we made a small
rivulet on the south side which our people named Riviere Maron. Country is pleasant,
animals small and lean. Traps produced nothing. Course S. E., distance nine miles.
Tuesday 17th. Left camp early, the people grumbling to remain. Passed three lodges of
Tete Pletes. Francois Rivet(7) caught a beaver; but the wolves devoured, it, skin and all.
Course S. SE., distance twelve miles.
Wednesday 18th. Remained in camp to hunt and refresh horses before entering the
mountains. I appointed Vieux Pierre to head the Iroquois, Mr. Montour(8) the Ft. de Prairie(9)
Half Breeds, and myself the remainder so the sentiments of the camp may be known by
a council: among so many unruly, ill-tongued villains. Four elk and twenty-five small deer
brought to camp. Louis killed nine with ten shots.
Friday 20th.(10) Detained in camp by sleet and rain.
Saturday 21st. Antoine Valle's boy died.
Monday 23rd. Passed the defile(11) of the mountains between Jacques and Courtine forks.
End of defile had a view of noted place called Hell's Gate, so named from being frequented
by war parties of young Blackfeet and, Piegans. We were met by eight Piegans and a
drove of dogs in train with, provisions and robes to trade at the Flathead post. At
Courtine's Fork, the country opens finely to view clumps of trees and level plains
alternately. The freemen in spite of all we could say like a band of wolves seized on the
Piegan's load:, one a robe, another a piece of fat, a third a cord, a fourth an appichinon,
till nothing remained and, for a few articles of trash paid in ammunition treble the value.
These people put no value on property. It would be better to turn these vagabonds adrift
with the Indians and treat them as Indians.
Tuesday 24th. Remained in camp to hunt. Traded seven beaver from the Piegans. As they were going off we saluted them with the brass gun to show them that it at least makes a noise.
Wednesday 25th. Passed Piegan River(12) the war road to this quarter. Here the road
divides to the Snake country, one following the Piegan River, the other Courtine's Fork(13)
both to the Snakes S. E. We followed the latter, a continuation of S. fork of Flathead River.
Elk and small deer in great plenty. Flocks of swans flying about. Was informed that two
Iroquois, Laurent and Lazard, had deserted. Assembling a small party, I went in pursuit
of the villains. After sixteen miles we came up with them, partly by persuasion, partly by
force, brought them along after dark. Old Pierre behaved well. Lazard had disposed of
his new rifle and ammunition for a horse. Lazard had sold his lodge. Though encamped
in a most dangerous place, not a freeman would guard the horses.
Thursday 26th. The general cry was for remaining to hunt. I assented. It may be asked
why I did not command. I answer to command when we have power of enforcing the
command does very well; otherwise, to command is one thing; to obey, another.
Friday 27th. Hunt yesterday, twenty-seven elk, six deer.
Sunday 28th. All this day in camp to wait those laggard freemen who arrived in the
evening and camped on the opposite side of the river to show contrary.
Tuesday March(14). There fell seven inches of snow; south wind soon dispelled the gloom.
This being a good place for horses, we resolved to pass the day to prepare for passing the
mountains between the headwaters of the Flathead and Missouri Rivers. Killed eleven elk,
four sheep, seven deer. They're very fat here.
Thursday 11th. Proceeding over slippery stony road, at every bend a romantic scene
opens. The river alone prevents the hills embracing. Our road following the river crossing
and recrossing. Here a curiosity called the Ram's Horn"(15) - out of a large pine five feet from
root projects a ram's head, the horns of which are transfixed to the middle. The natives
cannot tell when this took place but tradition says when the first hunters passed this way,
he shot an arrow at a mountain ram and wounded him; the animal turned on his assailant
who jumped behind a tree. The animal missing its aim pierced the tree with his horns and
killed himself. The horns are crooked and very large. The tree appears to have grown
round the horns. Proceeded over zigzag road.
Monday 15th(16). Early this morning thirty men, ten boys, fifty horses set off to beat the road
through five feet of snow for twelve miles. Late in the evening all hands arrived well
pleased with day's work having made three miles. The horses had to be swum through it,
their plunges frequently disappearing altogether. Geese and swan seen in passage north
Thursday 18th. This morning sent off forty men with shovels and fifty horses to beat the
road. Weather bad with snow and drift, they returned to camp. The crust is eight ( ?)
inches thick lying under two feet of snow. Owing to crust the horses made no headway.
There are now eight miles of the road made, oft the prospect is gloomy, people undecided
whether to continue or turn back.
Friday 19th. We did not resume our labors today owing to the drift. This country abounds
with mountain Sheep weighing about seventy pounds. Late today John Grey, a turbulent
leader among the Iroquois, came to my lodge as spokesman to inform me he and ten
others had resolved to abandon the party and turn back. I asked him why? He said they
would lose the spring hunt by remaining here, were tired of so large a band, and did not
engage to dig snow and make roads. It told him I was surprised to hear a good quiet
honest fellow udder such language, God forgive me for saying so. I said by going back
they would lose the whole year's hunt, and here a sudden change in weather would allow
us to begin hunting. Danger required us to keep together for safety. John answered he
was neither a soldier nor a slave; he was under the control of no man. I told him he was
a freeman of good character and to be careful not to stain it. In, my heart I thought
otherwise. I saw John in his true colors, a turbulent blackguard, a damned rascal. He said
fair words were very good but back he would go. "You are no stronger than other men"
said I, "stopped you will be! I will stop you," and he said he would like to see the man who
could stop him. I said I would stop him. If his party walked off the expedition would fail.
Vieux Pierre interrupted by coming in. John went off cursing the large band, the Snake
country and the day he came to it! So another day ends.
Saturday 20th. Stormy. John as he swore, did not turn back nor any of his gang. I
suspect he is plotting to raise a rebellion. If he succeeds, it will injure our prospects if not
stop us altogether. In the evening the cry of "enemies, enemies, Blackfeet! Piegans" was
vociferated in the camp. All hands rushed out when the enemies proved to be six friendly
Nez Perces separated from their camp on the buffalo ground and in snow shoes made way
to us across the mountains. They have been five days on this journey. They told us the
Blackfeet and Piegans had stolen horses out of the Flathead and Nez Perces' camp nine
different times and they were preaching up (!) peace and good fellowship. The Blackfeet
had made a war excursion against the Snakes, killed eight, taken some slaves and many
horses. That the buffalo were in great plenty but the snow very deep. The Piegans were
seen in seven bands. Cannot these outlandish devils disturbing the peace be annihilated
Sunday 21st. Finding John at the head of a party, I sent for the intriguing scamp and
agreed with him to hunt me animals, whenever I should want any, from which source his
debt of 4,000 livres is to be reduced 400 livres or about twenty beaver. To this he agreed.
All quiet once more. It is impossible to proceed without these hunters.
Tuesday 23rd. Early this a.m. thirty persons went on snow shoes across the mountains
to the buffalo. I feel anxious, very anxious, at our long delay here. The people grumble
much. The sly deep dog Laurent who once already deserted left camp today and turned
back. He was off before I had any knowledge of it and told his comrades he was going to
the Nez Perces' camp to trade meat, but would come again. Our camp abounds with
meat. The dog has no thought of returning unless the Indians cast him out as he deserves.
A more discordant, headstrong, ill-designing set of rascals than form this camp God never
permitted together in the fur trade.
Wednesday 24th. All quiet in camp today.
Thursday 25th. All the women went off to collect berries.
Sunday 28th. The buffalo hunters came back today, buffalo in plenty; thirty killed, six of
the men brought over 140 pounds of dried meat but becoming snow blind could not secure
( ?) the meat left behind. Grass began to appear through the snow.
Tuesday 30th. A meeting today to decide whether to make the rest of the road or not. It
was agreed to wait seven or eight days, another party to go buffalo hunting.
Friday 2nd (April) Today I was surprised by the return of Laurent. He says he went as far
as Hell's Gate but finding no beaver came back. The truth is, he saw the Piegans, got a
fright and came back.
Monday 5th. Were visited by fifty Nez Perces just arrived from buffalo country loaded with
provisions. Our people commenced a trade with them so brisk that hardly a ball was left
among the freemen nor a mouthful of provisions amongst the Indians. When these people
meet Indians, a frenzy siezes them. What madness in them, and what folly in the company
to be furnishing such people with means. It was now we learned the truth of Laurent's trip
back. He was sent by the Iroquois to get these Indians to trade with us. This visit has left
our people almost naked and cost 100 balls to send our visitors off pleased.
Wednesday 7th. Nez Perces went off.
Friday 9th. After a pause of twenty-six days we shifted quarters two miles ahead.
Saturday 10th. This morning none of the freemen would work on the road except old
Pierre, who alone went and alone worked. A novel trick brought about a change. Old
Cadiac dit, Grandreau having made a drum and John Grey a fiddle, the people were
entertained with a concert of music(17) Taking advantage of the good humor, I got all to
consent to go to the road tomorrow.
Wednesday 14th. This morning on going to my lodge in camp, I could muster only seven
persons with twenty horses to finish the last mile of the road. In the evening we raised
camp and moved to the foot of the mountain at the source of Flathead River, 345 miles
from its joining the Columbia. The river is navigable for 250 miles.
Thursday 15th. This day we passed the defile(18) of the mountains after a most laborious
journey both for man and beast. Long before daylight, we were on the road, in order to
profit by the hardness of the crust. From the bottom to the top of the mountain is about
one and a half miles. Here is a small creek, the source of the Missouri, in this direction
between which and the source of the Flathead River is scarce a mile distant. The creek
runs a course nearly S. SE. following, the road through the mountain till it joins a principal
branch of the Missouri beyond the Grand Prairie(19). For twelve miles, the road had been
made through five feet deep snow but the wind had filled it up again. The last eight miles
we had to force our way through snow gullies. At 4 p.m. we encamped on the other side
of the defile without loss or accident. Distance today, eighteen miles. This high land is a
horn of the Rocky Mountains, called the Blue Mountains. It is the dividing ridge(20) between
the Nez Perces and Snake Nations and terminates near the Columbia. The delay has cost
loss of one month and to the freemen 1,000 beaver. Two men should winter here and
keep the road open at all seasons.
Friday 16th. Encamped here to make lodge poles for the voyage.
Saturday 17th. Proceeded to the main fork(21) of Missouri hobbled our horses and set
watch. It was on this flat prairie 400 Piegans came up with Mr. McDonald(22) last fall and
a freeman named Thomas Anderson from the east side of the mountains was killed.
Monday 19th. As we are on dangerous ground, I have drawn up the following rules:
(1)All hands to raise camp together and by call.
(2)The camp to march as close as possible.
(3)No person to run ahead.
(4)No persons to set traps till all hands camp.
(5)No person to sleep out of camp.
These rules which all agreed to were broken before night.
Wednesday 21st. Thirty beaver today. The freemen will keep no watch on their horses
but to tie them and sleep fast.
Thursday 22nd. Thirty-five beaver taken,six feet left in the trap. Twenty-five traps missing.
Boisterous weather today. The freemen left their horses to chance, nor did they collect
them during the storm at night.
Discordant people fill up the cup
Indifference and folly will soon drink it up
But loss and misfortune must be the lot
When care and attention are wholly forgot.
Friday 23rd. Bad weather keeps us in camp. That scamp the Salteux and worthless fellow
his nephew threaten to leave because I found fault with them for breaking the rules. If they
attempt it, I am determined to strip them naked.
Saturday 24th. Crossed beyond the boiling fountain(23), snow knee deep. We encamp in
the spot where the Flathead and Nez Perces fought a battle four years ago. Herds of buffalo grazing here: sixteen killed. The camp is now under guard. Half the people snow blind
from the sun glare.
Monday 26th. Crossed to Middle Forks(24)
of the Missouri, smaller than the first fork with
which it unites ten miles from here. A large herd of buffalo here; upwards of twenty killed,
two young calves brought to camp alive. This is a Piegan trail where three years ago, the
freemen had battle with the Piegans and a Nez Perces lad was shot last year.
Tuesday 27th. After camping, We mounted the brass gun and shot it three times for
Wednesday 28th. Forty-four beaver to camp today.
Thursday 29th. Leaving the Missouri, crossed over to the Nez Perces River called the
Salmon River(25). It is a branch of the river on which Lewis and Clarke fell in leaving the Missouri for the Pacific. Followed tip the middle fork of Missouri to its source, then ascending
a hill fell on the waters of the Salmon. Passed a deserted Piegan camp of thirty-six lodges.
This place is rendered immemorial as being the place where about ten Piegans, murderers
of our people, were burnt to death. The road in the defile we passed from the Missouri to
this river is a Piegan and Blackfoot pass of most dangerous, sort for a lurking enemy; and
yet all the freemen dispersed by twos and twos. The rules are totally neglected. Here
birds are singing and spring smiles. All traps out for the first time since we left the fort.
Friday 30th. Only forty-two beaver. Remain in camp today. Three people slept out in spite
of rules and I had to threaten not to give single ball to them if they did not abide by the
rifles. All promised fair and all is quiet.
May, Saturday 1st. Fifty-five beaver today.
Thursday 6th. On a rough calculation all the beaver in camp amount to 600 skins, one-tenth of our expected returns.
Monday 10th(26). This morning I proposed that a small party should go on a trip of discovery
for beaver across the range of mountains which bounds this river on the west in the hope
of finding the headwaters of Reid's River which enters the main Snake River below the fall,
on which a post was begun by Mr. McKenzie in 1819. I might say begun by Mr. Reid in
1813. For this trip, I could get only three men.
Tuesday 11th. Took fifty beaver and shifted camp.
Wednesday 12th. Caught fifty beaver. Went up to headwaters of the river. This is the
defile where in 1819 died John Day(27); a little farther on the three knobs so conspicuous for
Monday 17th.(28) Resolved to make a cache here. Hiding furs in places frequented by
Indians is a risky business.
Wednesday 19th. Got a drum made for the use of the camp. It is beat every evening
regularly at the watch over the horses and to rouse all hands in the morning.
Wednesday 26th.(29) Again at Canoe Point on Salmon River.
Saturday 29th. Crossed over height of land which divides the waters of the Salmon and
the Snake descended to Goddin's River(30) named in 1820 by the discoverer Thyery Goddin.
The main south branch of the Columbia, the Nez Perces, the main Snake River and Lewis
River, are one and the same differently named. I have determined to change my course
and steer for the source of the Great Snake River near the Three Pilot Knobs (Three
Tetons) a place which abounds both in beaver and Blackfeet. I told the people danger, or
no danger, beaver was our object and a hunt we would make.
Monday 31st. Left eight to trap Goddin's River and raised camp for head of the Salmon.
Sunday 6th (June). The two men (________________________) and Beauchamp who
went off yesterday were robbed by the Piegans, had a narrow escape with their lives and
got back to camp a little after dark having traveled on foot forty miles. On their way to the
place to meet our people they discovered a smoke and taking it to be our people advanced
within pistol shot when behold it proved to be a camp of Piegans. Wheeling, they had
hardly time to take shelter among a few willows when they were surrounded, fifteen armed
men on horseback. Placing their horses between themselves and the enemy, our people
squatted down to conceal themselves. The Piegans advanced within five paces, when our
people raising their guns made them fall back. The Indians kept capering and yelling
around them cock sure of their prey. The women had also collected on a small eminence
to act a willing part, having on their arrow finders and armed with lances. During this time,
the two men had crept among, the bushes, mud and water a little out of the way and night
approaching made their escape leaving behind horses, saddles, traps. They saw the
tracks of our people near the Piegan camp and that is all we know of them. We fear they
have been discovered but little hope of their escaping as they lead little ammunition.
Coison said the Piegans were the rear guard of a large war party, from the great quantity
of baggage, the men not exceeding twenty-five.
I called the camp together and proposed to start with twenty men to find our people and
pay the Piegans a visit, the camp to remain till my return. The general opinion over ruled
my wishes, thinking it safer to move camp more distant, than go for the men.
Monday 7th. At an early hour saddled our horses. The road proved short to Goddin's
River S.W. After letting our horses eat a little, I fitted out a party of twenty men well armed
to go in quest of our people. They set off at sunset, old Pierre in command, with orders to
find our people and observe peace unless attacked.
Tuesday 8th. All hands in camp; a park enclosed from horses. The big gun mounted and
Wednesday 9th. Five of the twenty men back tired out; no news.
June 10th Thursday.(31) All arrived safe this afternoon. The Blackfeet taking to flight. Since
they separated from us, the eight trappers had taken fifty-two beaver. The party lost my
Friday 11th June. Twelve men fitted out for Henry's Fork to meet at the fork on 25th Sept.,
our party go up Goddin's River.
Wednesday 16th June. Took twenty-five beaver, the first of our second thousand, low
indeed at this advanced season. The signs for beaver are very fine; in one place I counted
148 trees large and small cut down by beaver in the space of 100 yards. Last night eight
feet and seven toes left in the traps. Fifteen traps missing, making loss of thirty beaver.
Saturday 19th. Had a fright from the Piegans. This morning when almost all hands were
at their traps scattered by ones and twos only ten men left in camp, the Blackfeet to the
number of forty all mounted descended at full speed. The trappers were so divided, they
could render each other no assistance so they took to their heels among the bushes
throwing beaver one way, traps another. Others leaving beaver, horses and traps, took
to the rocks for refuge. Two, Jacques and John Grey, were pursued in the open plain.
Seeing their horses could not save them, like two heroes wheeled about and rode up to
the enemy,who immediately surrounded them. The Piegan chief asked them to exchange
guns;but they refused. He then seized Jacques' rifle but Jacques held fast and after a little
scuffle jerked it from them saying "If you wish to kill us, kill us at once; but our guns you
shall never get while we are alive." The Piegans smiled, shook hands, asked where the
camp was and desired to be conducted to it. With pulses beating as if any moment would
be their last, Jacques and John advanced with their unwelcome guests to the camp eight
miles distant. A little before arriving, Jacques at full speed came in ahead whooping, and
yelling "the Blackfeet ! the Blackfeet!" but did not tell us they were on speaking terms. In
an instant the camp was in an uproar. Of the ten men in camp, eight went to drive in the
horses. Myself and the others instantly pointed the big gun lighted the match and sent the
women away. By this time the party hove in sight but seeing John with them restrained me
from firing and I made signs to them to stop. Our horses were secured I then received them
coldly well recollecting the circumstances of the two men on the 6th and not doubting it was
the same party. All our people except two came in and the camp was in a state of defense. I invited them to a smoke. Their, story was: We left our lands in spring as all
embassy of peace to the Snakes, but while smoking with them on terms of friendships they
treacherously shot our chief; we resented the insult and killed two of them. We are now
on the way to meet our friends the Flatheads." They said the camp was not far off and the
party 100 strong. They denied any knowledge of the 6th inst. After dark they entertained
us to music and dancing all of which we could have dispensed with. Our people threw
away thirty-two beaver; twenty were brought in. A strong guard for the horses. All slept
Sunday 20th. Again invited the Piegans to smoke; gave them presents; and told them to
set off and play no tricks for we would follow them to their own land to punish them. They
saddled horses and sneaked off one by one along the bushes for 400 yards then took to
the mountains. The big gun commanded respect.
Monday 21st. Decamped. Found a fresh scalp; sixty-five beaver today.
Thursday 24th. This is the spot where Mr. McKenzie and party fell on this river in spring
of 1820 on the way to Ft. Nez Perces.
Saturday 3rd July.(32) We left River Malade and proceeded to the head of Reid's River.(33)
In 1813 during the Pacific Fur Company, Mr. Reid with a party of ten men chiefly trappers,
wintered here; in spring, they were all cut off by the natives. After Mr. Reid this river was
named. At its mouth an establishment was begun by Donald McKenzie in 1819. It was
burned and two men killed. In spring 1820, four men more were destroyed by the natives.
This river has already cost the whites sixteen men.
August 24th. Number of miles traversed to date, 1,050; number of horses lost, 18.
Saturday, Sept. 18th.(34) While our people were crossing the height of land, I left the front
and taking one man with me ascended the top of a lofty peak situated between the sources
of River Malade and Salmon River, whence I had a very extensive view of the surrounding
country. Both rivers were distinctly seen. The chain of mountains which for 150 miles
separates the waters of the Salmon River from those which enter the Great Snake lie
nearly E. W.
Wednesday 6th Oct.(35) Our cache of May is safe. Length of Salmon River covered this
year, 100 miles.
Oct. 7th. Beaver taken out of cache, counted and packed and carried along with us.
Tuesday, 12th Oct. This morning after and illness of twenty days during which we carried
him on a stretcher died Jean Bat Boucher, aged 65, an honest man.
Thursday, 14th Oct. Today Pierre arrived pilaged and destitute. This conduct has been blamable since they left us. They passed the time with the indians and neglected their hunts, quarrelled with the indians at last, were then robbed and left naked on the plains. The loss of twelve out of twenty trappers is no small consideration. With these vagabonds arrived twenty american trappers from the Big Horn River but whom I rather take to be spies than trappers. Regarding our deserters of 1822 accounts do not agree. It is evident part of them have reached the American posts on the Yellowstone and Big Hole with much fur. I suspect these Americans have been on the lookout to decoy more. The scalp furs and horses carried last year to Fort des Prairies by the Blackfeet belonged to, this establishment. The quarter is swarming with trappers who next season are to penetrate the Snake country with a Major Henry(36)
at their head, the same gentleman who fifteen
years ago wintered on Snake River. The report of these men on the price of beaver has
a very great influence on our trappers. The seven trappers have in two different caches
900 beaver. I made them several propositions but they would not accept lower than $3 a
pound. I did not consider myself authorized to arrange at such prices. The men
accompanied us to the Flatheads. There is a leading person with them. They intend
following us to the fort.
Saturday 16th. Sent our express, to Mr. Ogden at Spokane house.
November lst, Monday. Got across the divide.
FLATHEAD POST, 1825
1824. November, Friday 26.(37)- From Prairie de Cheveaux myself and party arrived at this
place in the afternoon , where terminated our voyage of 10 months to the Snakes. Mr.
Ogden(38) and Mr. Dears(39) with people and outfit from Spokane reached this place only a few
hours before us. Statement of people both voyages ( ?)
Engaged party with their families, including gentlemen, and 43 men, 8 women, 16 children.
Freemen and trappers with families, 34 men, 8 lads, 22 women and 5 children. Total, 176
To accommodate people and property we use a row of huts 6 in number, low, linked
together under one cover, having the appearance of deserted booths.
Saturday 27. All hands building. Mr. Ogden handed me a letter from the Governor
appointing me in charge of this place for the winter. Mr. Ogden takes my place as chief
of the Snake expedition.
Monday 29. Kootenais joined Flatheads at Prairie de Cheveaux. Indians are now as
|Lodges||Men & Lads||Guns||Women||Children|
and 1,850 horses.
We sent word to the camp to come and begin trade as follows: First, Flat.; 2d P. etc., as
in order above.
Tuesday 30. About 10 o'clock the Flatheads in a body mounted, arrived, chanting the song
of peace. At a little distance they halted and saluted the fort with discharges from their
guns. We returned the compliment with our brass pounder. The reverbating sound had
a fine effect. The head chief advanced and made a fine speech welcoming the white man
to these lands, apologizing for having but few beaver. The cavalcade then moved up. The
chiefs were invited to the house to smoke. All the women arrived on horseback loaded
with provisions and a brisk trade began which lasted till dark. The result was, 324 beaver,
154 bales of meat, 159 buffalo tongues, etc.
December, Wednesday 1. The Pend' Orielles arrived in the manner of those of yesterday
and traded as follows: 198 beaver, 8 muskrat, etc.
Received 2000 of the Snake Freemen's(40) beaver today and sent off canoe to Spokane
Thursday 2d. Employed with Freemen and Indians all day. At night we had received
2000 more of Snake beaver.
Friday 3d. The Kootenais accompanied by 10 Piegans came up, with the same ceremony
and traded as follows: 494 beaver, 509 muskrat, 2 red foxes, 3 mink, etc. The Kootenais
do not belong here but are driven from fear of the Piegans and Blackfeet.
The trouble of this part is now over till spring as the Indians have gone home. In all we
have traded 1183 beaver, 14 otter, 529 muskrat, 8 fishers, 3 minks, 1 martin, 2 foxes,
11,072 pounds dried meat, etc. (Buffalo meat.)
The trade hardly averages 3 skins per Indian.
Sunday, December 5. Began to equip the Freemen today. Mr. Ogden settling their
accounts. Mr. Dears in the Indian shop with Interpreter Rivett, and myself with Mr. McKay(41)
in the equipment shop.
Saturday, December 11. Finished equipping the Snake hunters. Mr. Kittson(42) from the
Monday, 20th. Statement of men under Mr. Ogden to go to the Snake Country: 25 lodges,
2 gentlemen, 2 interpreters, 71 men and lads, 80 guns, 364 beaver traps, 372 horses.
This is the most formidable party that has ever set out for the Snakes. Snake expedition
took its departure. Each beaver trap last year in the Snake country averaged 26 beaver.
It is expected this hunt will net 14,100 beaver. Mr. Dears goes as far as Prairie de
Wednesday, 22d. Statement of people at this fort: 2 gentlemen, 14 laborers, 4 women, 7
children. Set the people squaring timber to keep them from plotting mischief.
Saturday 25th. Considerable indians; the peace pipe kept in motion. All the people a
Sunday 26th. No work today. Ordered the men to dress and keep the Sabbath.
January 1, 1825. At daybreak the men saluted with guns. They were treated to rum and
cake, each a pint of rum and a half pound of tobacco.
March 1. Tuesday. The winter trade from December 4 has amounted to 71 beaver, 2 otter,
15 muskrat, 3 foxes, etc.
Saturday, 12 March(43) After breakfast embarked 4 canoes in sight of 1000 natives for
Spokane House. 1644 large beaver, 378 small beaver, 29 otter, 775 muskrats, 9 foxes,
12 fishers, 1 martin, 8 mink, also leather and provisions.
(At Spokane House) Friday, 25th March.- Of all situations(44) chosen in the Indian country. -Spokane House is the most singular: far from water, far from Indians and out of the way. Spokane (Forks) on the west, Kettle Falls on the north Coeur d' Alene on the south, Pend' Oreille on the east would be better.
1. Flathead House or Fort or Post was then located almost exactly at the present railroad station of Eddy (Northern Pacific Ry.), on north bank of Clark Fork River, in Sanders, Montana; this was about ten miles southeast and further up the river from the site of David Thompson's "Salish House," which was established in 1809 and used by the Northwest Company traders while that company continued in business.
2. Horse Plains, now designated by the single word "Plains." a famous council ground of the Salish or Flathead Indians; the freemen were probably camped near the railroad station of Weeksville.
3. Camas Prairie. to the eastward from the Horse Plains; the Indian trail went across the hills by way of this prairie, instead of around by the river as the railroad now runs. This trail is clearly shown on map in Stevens' Report, Pac. Ry. Report, Vol. 12, Part 1, also an engraving showing this prairie.
4. At Perma station of the No. Pac. Ry., where the trail again struck the Flat head River and crossed it: known later as Rivet's Ferry because a son of old Francois Rivet settled there.
5. A small stream entering the Flathead from the south near McDonald station of the No. Pac. Ry.
6. The Jocko, which flows into the Flathead at Dixon, Montana; this stream so named after Jacques Raphael Finlay, an intelligent half-breed and one of David Thompson's men, in 1809.
7. Afterward a settler on French Prairie in the Willamette Valley.
8. Mr. Ross' clerk: doubtful whether the Nicholas Montour of David Thompson's time.
9. A general term meaning the prairie forts of the company on the Saskatchewan River.
10. See page 11 of "Fur Hunters."
11. Coriacan Defile through which the No. Pac. Ry. now passes; the view of Missoula and the Bitter Root Valley is as fine now as it was in 1824.
12. The Hell Gate or Missoula River.
13. The Bitter Root River of today. Our Clark Fork River was then called the Flathead River clear to Lake Pend d'Oreille, and below that even.
14. Now seem to be near the forks of the Bitter Root,0 above the town of Darby, Ravalli County, Montana.
15. See pages 18 and 19 of "Fur Hunters", they follow the trail through the gorge of Ross Fork of the Bitter Root. This Rams Horn tree was a common sight to pioneers who traveled that trail in the fifties and sixties. It is yet known as the Medicine Tree, because so revered by the Indians. The trunk still stands in Sec. 22. TP. 30 N., R. 20 E., B. M.
16. He is now in Ross' Hole, his "The Valley of Troubles," as described on page 20 of "Fur Trappers" Lewis and Clark were here September 4, 1805 ; also consult Pac. Ry. Report, Vol. 12, Part 1, page 169, for description and engraving.
17. The first vaudeville performance in Ravalli County, Montana, of which we have record.
18. Gibbons pass across the continental divide.
19. Big Hole Prairie,Beaverhead County, Montana, well described and illustrated in Stevens' Pac Ry. Report already cited.
20. Very nearly correct. The Blue Mountain Range of Eastern Oregon and Washington really is a continuation of the mountain range that crosses Idaho and joins the continental divide at the head of the Bitter Root Valley of Montana.
21. Meaning the Big Hole or Wisdom River.
22. Finan McDonald, who led the Snake Expedition in 1823.
23. The warm springs near Jackson P.O., Beaverhead County, Montana.
24. That is he crossed the low divide to Grasshopper Creek near Bannock: the Beaverhead would be his Middle Fork of the Missouri.
25. He has crossed over to the Lemhi River, a branch of the Salmon River, which flows into the Snake, and is in Idaho. See page 53 of "The Fur Hunters."
26. The party is now probably at the junction of the Salmon and the Pahsimari Rivers in Custer County, Idaho; see page 59 of "The Fur Hunters."
27. Evidently the John Day of the Astor party, who became a Northwest Company trapper under Donald McKenzie. See page 62 of "Fur Hunters."
28. Now about to start on a profitless trip across the ridge of Salmon River Range directly west. See page 62 of "Fur Hunters."
29. The party has returned from the trip to the westward; see page 67 of "Fur Hunters."
30. According to Arrowsmith's map this would be Big Lost river, on present day maps. Ross seems to have ascended Pahsamari River to source and crossed the divide to Birch Creek, where he left his main party and himself made four days trip to Snake River near St. Anthony's. He is back again on the 6th. See pages 68,69,70 of "Fur Hunters."
31. See page 72 of "Fur Hunters," where Mr. Ross misnames the three buttes in the desert southeast of Lost River by calling them the Trois Tetons. He now proceeds up Goddins or Big Lost River to its source and crosses to the source of the Malade or Big Wood River near Ketchum, Idaho, where the next Indian scare occurs. See pages 75-80 of "Fur Hunters."
32. Descending the Malade (Big Wood River) to the mouth of Camas Creek. the party turns west across Camas Prairie and the divide to the head of the Boise River; see pages 80-89 of "Fur Hunters."
33. Consult Irving's "Astoria" for account of the death of Mr. Reed of the Pacific Fur Company.
34. This journal omits entirely all mention of Mr. Ross from the time he reached the Boise until he returns on September to the rough mountain pass dividing Blaine and Custer Counties, Idaho; for this interim see pages 90-118 of "The Fur Hunters." His lofty peak now mentioned may be Boulder Peak of today, but he named it Mt. Simpson.
35. The party is now back at Canoe Point, see previous note on May 10th. The party sent off on June 11th joins them a little further along on their way to the headwaters of the Missouri.
36. Major Andrew Henry, the first American trader to cross the continental divide (in fall of 1810) and at this time partner of General Wm. Ashley in the fur business. The desertions of the H.B.C. freeman to the Americans mentioned in this text took place before General Ashley personally ever came to the Rocky Mountains; see page 356 of Vol. 11 of Or. Hist. Quart. for discussion of this.
37. From the heading it would appear that Mr. Ross now begins a new part of the journal, covering his residence at Flathead Post or Fort.
38. Peter Skene Ogden, well known to Oregon pioneers; see Oregon first. Quar., Vol. 11 pp. 247-8.
39. This was Mr. Thomas Dears, who was a clerk of the H. B. Co. on the Columbia at this time
40. That is, that the skins taken for the free hunters that were a part of the expedition in distinction from the engaged men or employees of the company.
41. Probably Mr. Thos. McKay, son of Alex McKay of the Pac Fur Co., whose widow became the wife of Dr. John McLoughlin.
42. William Kittson, who was in charge of the trading post among the Kootenais for many years; he died at Fort Vancouver about 1841. His brother, Norman, was one of the early millionaires of St. Paul, Minn.
43. The trading post is now left in charge of some half-breed or entirely abandoned until fall, as the Indians spent their summer hunting buffalo.
44. Mr. Ross indulges in his usual disgust as to the site of Spokane House which feeling he elaborated at length in his "Fur Hunters." And this post was abandoned the following year for the new one at Kettle Falls, called Fort Colvile.